Hopes have faded for survivors of one of Nepal's worst mountain disasters as villagers joined an intensive search by troops and government officials for as many as 40 people missing after a freak blizzard killed 39.

More than 500 people have been rescued from a route popular with foreign adventure tourists that circles Annapurna, the world's tenth-tallest peak.

We are not clear where the missing people are and whether they are safe or not safe. We can only hope and pray that they are not dead.

Yadav Koirala, Nepal's disaster management authority

Rescuers turned to villagers familiar with terrain in the hunt for trekkers stranded in isolated areas after the tail end of a cyclone that hit neighbouring India last weekend triggered the snow and avalanches.

"We are not clear where the missing people are and whether they are safe or not safe," Yadav Koirala, the chief of Nepal's disaster management authority, told Reuters news agency in Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital.

"We can only hope and pray that they are not dead."

Since Wednesday, rescue teams have recovered 30 bodies and identified nine more from the air.

"The snow is very thick and the rescue teams are finding it difficult to pull the nine bodies out," said K.P Sharma, an administrator in Dolpa, a district of glaciers and ravines.

Army helicopters continued to search for survivors on parts of the trail at an altitude of more than 5,000 metres.

The dead include Canadian, Indian, Israeli, Japanese, Nepalese, Polish and Slovak trekkers.

Trail closed

Survivors said many victims perished trying to descend from the trail's highest pass in freezing, whiteout conditions.

The incident was the year's second major mountain disaster in Nepal, after an avalanche killed 16 guides on Mount Everest, in April.

This week's disaster was the worst since avalanches crashed down peaks in the Mount Everest region in 1995, killing 42 people, army officials said.

Nepalese officials on Sunday closed the popular trail after rescuers had to bring yet more hikers to safety after they tried to use routes where the blizzards had struck, AP news agency reported.

"Our rescuers and helicopters ended up having to bring down these new people while we were still trying to reach the ones who were stranded by the blizzard," government official Yama Bahadur Chokhyal said.

"It was burdening and confusing the rescuers so they had to be stopped."

Source: Agencies